As someone who has been a big fan of Alfonso Cuarón, Steve McQueen, and Spike Jonze -- and think their efforts this year were very strong entries in their filmographies -- I was perfectly pleased to see all three of them get to make speeches last night. I have to say the Picture/Director split was kind of nice -- I often find myself splitting my personal preferences in those categories between two movies I like, and this was a pretty great way to make fans of both films feel rewarded. I honestly doubt any 12 Years or Gravity fans left the evening feeling like their movie got slighted in the way that Social Network fans felt a crushing "so-close" loss several years back.
On the whole, I agree that the winners were quite strong across the board. Not every selection was my first choice, but I can't say that there was a single winner that made me groan. Of course, I'd have preferred some surprises, though at the end of the day I'll take a worthier group of winners over grisly upsets any day.
You really do have to wonder, though, if we'll ever have another ceremony that isn't largely dictated by pre-ordained blogger favorites. As usual, the Broadcast Film Critics and SAG really seemed to settle the races to a disappointing degree. Had we not had either of those prizes, I imagine predictions of DiCaprio (and even Dern and Ejiofor) would have been far more prominent in a very competitive Best Actor field, rather than everyone assuming McConaughey would come out on top. And Lupita Nyong'o would have been practically an underdog in that scenario, given the Globe and BAFTA prizes to Lawrence. Wouldn't have that Oscar night been a lot more fun?
A thought crossed my mind last year, but seemed silly at the time to suggest, though a second back-to-back Picture/Director split has made me reconsider it. Is it possible that the preferential balloting system might have helped produce these Best Picture choices, and under the one-vote system, Argo and 12 Years might have both lost Best Picture? Given how well both did in the Best Picture precursors, it seems strange to suggest, but it's at least worth considering, given how much these past few years have really broken from tradition. Or, possibly, perhaps one can simply attribute these victories to a changing membership -- as much as we like to cite precedent in making our predictions, the people voting now are not remotely the same group of people that voted Picture and Director in tandem in 1974 or 1977. Perhaps this crowd is just more willing to divvy up their votes than past members were. And I'd say the screenplay prize for Her -- in nominations terms a seemingly MUCH less widely popular film than American Hustle -- could also support this idea, that today's voters are a lot more likely to pick a smaller film with a very notable script than the Oscar voters of yore, who would more likely choose an broad across-the-board candidate with stronger Best Picture pull.
It's also worth mentioning that both last year and this year featured quite a number of shakeups from the precursor templates with Oscar in the NOMINATIONS stage, but once we got to the big show, the awards went almost entirely according to predictions. I'm not sure what this really says, except for that perhaps it's easier for niche Academy preferences to squeak through as the smaller branches nominate, but once the general membership votes, it's becoming increasingly difficult for a group that large to produce winners that feel anything less than homogenous.
We all knew it was coming, but watching Emmanuel Lubezki FINALLY win an Oscar after coming up short so many times was a great moment. As for great moments that were a little less predictable, I was very happy to see The Great Beauty prevail over some of the more milquetoast candidates for Foreign Language Film. I didn't think Beauty was quite on par with Amour/Separation in terms of perfection, but it was a dazzling and exciting movie nonetheless, and I gave it probably the biggest cheer of the night when it won.
I was less enthused with Frozen than most, but I must admit that it's rewarding that Disney Feature Animation -- which, for the majority of movie history, WAS animation -- finally score the Animated Feature prize. And similarly, though I don't feel any tremendous attachment to "Let It Go," watching a composer I admire like Bobby Lopez complete his EGOT (topped off with that great speech from him and his wife) made for a memorable moment.
I really like Ellen DeGeneres. I liked her previous hosting gig, and I liked her this time. She's funny without being mean, and she's clearly someone who everyone in the audience just adored.
Pharrell's number was a kick, made even more entertaining by Nyong'o, Streep, and Adams shimmying with him. U2 and Karen O were totally solid. Idina Menzel struggled with the high note, and seemed visibly nervous (shades of her "Defying Gravity" performance on the Tonys a decade ago), but remains one of musical theater's most commanding performers. Speaking of struggling, Bette Midler wasn't in her best voice tonight either, and Pink, much as I'm usually fond of her, decided to breathe way too many times in the middle of words for my taste.
The montages were strange -- I'm not sure what all this talk about "heroes" was. It seemed to me that basically heroes translated to "main characters," and the clips chosen were pretty bland. In Memoriam was quite nice though.
There were quite a few totally strange moments -- the group selfie picture, Liza Minnelli embracing Lupita Nyong'o, John Travolta butchering Menzel's name -- that provided my crowd quite a bit of laughs. Moments like these are what keep the Oscars such a bizarre cultural object, for better or for worse.
Not one Alone Yet Not Alone joke?